Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Nomine Patris

I suppose the first order of business, before a lofty and swooping pronouncement of my return to the world of blogging, is to speak to the primary reason my attention has been cast away from this medium, lo these many months. Allow me the indulgence here, to speak on the subject of fatherhood, and the riveting last few stages before reaching those shores.

When Eleanor Sheridan Sonnier arrived, (gasp) almost six months ago, the feelings associated can no more be put into words than, perhaps can the very thoughts she was having at the same time. Fear, elation, confusion, and a limitless and bewildering array of sensations bring that to mind images of plasticine porters with looking glass ties. It’s just too much to take in, much less describe. However, the essence of good story-telling is embellishment, so I will muster what little aptitude I have as a wordsmith, and do my jolly best.

Sheer unadulterated joy was not what I felt. I have felt sheer, unadulterated joy before, and this was not it. This was fear and confusion, and though unmitigated happiness was there, I could feel it waiting in the wings, looking at its watch. I was crying, I knew that much, but it was more sheer exhaustion than anything else, and perhaps great relief that the ordeal was over and most of the danger had passed.

She was crying, both of them were, but the smallest one was crying because she didn’t know what was happening, and because it was cold and someone was poking and prodding at her like a half-cooked turkey. Her weight was healthy and her size above average, but now the final gauntlet was set to begin. For this, unfortunately, we were unable to hold together and slog through; she would be on her own this time. She was removed and we were alone again. Thankfully not for long, because even though I had known her for only a few minutes before they whisked her away for tests, her absence was felt like a weight, a great pregnant pause filling the room.

She was returned to us with a clean bill of health, to gawk at, and to do our own, albeit unscientific, poking and prodding, the way one might kick a tire on a car about to be purchased. She was tiny and to be handled with great care. She was quiet, almost frighteningly so, and I was soon to learn the meaning of the words muconium and vernix.

It was a flurry of forms and pills and family members and The Eukanuba Dog Show and weights and lengths and bits and pieces of Big Trouble in Little China on a struggling laptop. The world outside was visible from the window, but its pallor seemed gray and lifeless, compared to the bright light inside that room.

That was when I felt it. That’s when the joy came to me, the moment I left that room for the first time. I walked out of the hospital to a Burger King a block away for some approximation of “real food.” I sat in the dining room of the establishment, wondering about the time, deducing that since I was eating a breakfast burrito, it must be between the posted hours of 5:00 AM and 10:30 AM. I chewed slowly, savoring everything but the meal. I was filthy and tired, hair more unkempt than usual. I watched as two men on horses rode through the drive-thru. They clopped past my window with coffees in one hand and reigns in the other, bags of Croissanwhiches and mini-hash browns resting behind the necks of their rides. This was not the most amazing thing I had seen all day.

The happiness I felt at that time seemed to inflate me, the way standing over an air-vent will puff up your untucked shirt. I thought for certain that the other people in the dining room, a handful of fraternity fascists recovering from a night of self-abuse, would notice something was amiss with this man, something painfully wonderful was happening in his life. But they took no notice of me. I was alone in my joy, a thought that sent me scurrying back to the hospital room, most of a breakfast burrito deposited in the garbage where it belonged.

The next few days were a blur of naps, work (yes, I was working the whole time) and sudden interest in diaper commercials and life insurance advertisements. Though riddled with guilt, we sent baby Eleanor to the nursery the first couple of nights hoping for uninterrupted sleep after such exhaustion, but I found myself waking in the night, feeling in the dark room for her bassinet, and that weighty absence again.

We brought her home, and the rest is too boring and typical to bother telling. It’s been a great deal of trial and error, learning as much about ourselves as about her, and the lack of sleep has given way to an abundance of anxiety over her bowel movements. I am closer to my family than I have been in years, and they are closer to me. The relief of coming home after a trying day at work, now features the added benefit of an absurdly wide smile and even a chuckle at the sound of my voice.

Despite seeing the ship of a former life sail farther and farther into the horizon, so much that it appears only as a speck to the naked eye, I have found more happiness that can be contained. Despite the frustration of the mundane aspects of parenthood, the satisfaction cannot be compared. This is not only the rank satisfaction of the achievement of one’s biological imperative, but the thought that you have created a new person in your own image. God truly is in the man.

Mine has not been a sheltered existence, and I have experienced all the pain and joy and fright and elation that we are designed to process, but before staring into the huge, doe-like eyes of my daughter, I did not know the magnitude of happiness and devotion I was capable of experiencing.

A lot has been said to diminish the human experience on the planet earth. There are those who don’t believe in love, deferring that it’s a mechanism to ensure coupling and effective child-rearing, which can be reduced to a series of chemical reactions in the brain. I don’t dispute this, being essentially a secular humanist, but humbly submit that my fratres in armis acknowledge the very real power these emotions have, and value they add to the very humanity they celebrate.